I like races that take you places, from towns to mountains and from one valley to the next. It’s fine to run a race on a beautiful day, but it’s the ones where the weather goes through changes that are memorable for me. The 2012 SwissAlpine K42 Marathon began and ended in the rain for me, but was blessed with sunny skies over the passes.
Coming into race day I was in a strange state of mind. For various reasons, my body was sore and my spirit slightly deranged. I was in Pontresina earlier in July to train for the Swiss Irontrail T71, which ended up getting canceled under uncertain circumstances, and somehow my legs weren’t really into the SwissAlpine race. I should have rested more the week before…but once you’re off and running, there’s little motivation to stop.
The race started in the rain, with dark clouds and thunder echoing through the valley. Some people broke out the ponchos, some went without any, I broke out my light running jacket and dropped my other camera on the ground. When I run mountain marathons I generally go with a Salomon S-Lab 5 pack, because nothing sucks more than being cold in the mountains. I packed along my light Salomon jacket and Mammut gloves and. I took my GoPro along as well to experiment with giving a video perspective of the race, ascending and descending, running past cow bells and giving tips on how to run the race for future participants.
Bergun to Kesch
This initial stretch from Bergun up to Chants is mainly on asphalt and packed trail. Beyond Bergun the village the track climbs up along the mountain river, and if you look back every few minutes you’ll notice you’re quickly leaving the valley behind. Bergun falls away behind tree lines and the grey sky will soon be all that was left of your start. I’m not an especially fast runner, but I can fast hike faster than some people can run up a mountain, so in the start of the race I went at my own pace, I like to run the race I want to run, not the one I think I should and feeling bad about myself because everyone was running past me.
Nutrition stops are plentiful on the SwissAlpine K42, and this year I decided not to take any water with me, preferring to pre-drink a mix of calcium and magnesium and relied on the water, power tea, and cola at the stands. Although my body was protesting the whole way I felt strong inside, after the trail incline starter to increase I started passing many of those people who had been running past me in Bergun. As we climbed up through the trees and the alpine trails started the air was cool and sky was starting to clear. The Kesch Hutte stood out proud on the horizon of the pass. I wasn’t very aclitamized, I had taken the 3 hour train trip from Winterthur in the morning, and hadn’t been above 1000m since earlier in the month. Still, it’s just a question of putting one foot in front of the other one, and if you do that consistantly then you will attain the summit. At the top a nice old Swiss mountain man took a picture of me with Piz Kesch in the background, I’ll need to go back and climb that one day.
Kesch to Sertigpass
From the Kesch Hutte it’s a short descent down to the mountain plateau and a few kilometers on to the Sertigpass. On the initial descent you can pass people easily, but if you don’t pass them before the tranverse starts you’ll be stuck behind them the way towards the lake, where only mountain goats would find room to safely to overtake. There’s little reason to though, because this is the most beautiful part of the run. The mountain panorama opens up to the opposite valley and you feel an acute sense of freedom. You body is hyped with endorphins at this point from the run up to the hut and a calm euphoria will likely take over your soul and it’s possible you’ll hear people yelping and calling out like wild animals baying at a full moon, giving praise to the view that has opened up to them. If you plan to die of a heart attack, you should do it at this point in the race. It will suck for the people who have to remove your body, but it’s a nice last view to have.
At the Sertigpass the helpers will check and ask if you’re ok to keep going, take a rest if you need to. The descent from here is the best downhill of the whole race. The trail is narrow but in many places there’s ample room to take a long stride and overtake slow descenders. This is my favorite part of the race, I channel the mountain spirit, pretend like I’m a cross between Spiderman and a Steinbock, and let myself fly down the steep trails. It’s a technical run, and the reason I took my Salomon S-Lab 4 shoes, to ensure I would be able to go fast without flying off the side of the trail or crashing into the other runners. It’s essential here to accelerate when you see a window, a small opening between trail and runner where you can fly by and feel the rocks below your feel disappear for a second before gravity pulls you back down to Earth. After the Sertigpass descent it’s more or less 20 km of mainly wooded hiking paths back to Davos and the finish. What’s it like running down from the Sertigpass? Well check out the video I shot while running.
Sertig Dorfli to Davos Platz
After the Sertigpass descent the trail is mainly an enjoyable downhill to Davos Platz, which means it goes up as well in some places and flat in others, but the general trend is definitely a descent. My legs were shot at this point, I figured I would just keep going as possible, and let the people go by me as I made my way through the trees and rolling hills. You’re desceding down now through the valley, over soft trails and past cows and cheering locals who came out to watch the race. All in all it’s a fine way to end the day. At maker 35 I realized I could come in at under 6 hours, I would just need to run each step to the finish. My mind focused and I headed down the woodland trails. Some people around me started to walk, some started to run faster, I passed an old guy from the K78 race limping up the road but he refused any help and I kept on running.
My hips and legs were sort of pissed off at me by this point and I just pushed through it. American men are trained to be heroes from birth and we feel a deep sense of duty to hurt our bodies to achieve whatever little goal is put in front of us. At one point I remember humming the Marine Corps hymn, it made me think of John Wayne storming the beaches of Iow Jima in the 1949 film. Strange memories from my childhood, when you don’t grow up with a TV those few times you did watch it sticks in your mind like molasses.
Now, I’m fully aware that in a marathon you’re supposed to let your energy expand slowly and be expended fully by the finish. If you can sprint at the end it means you weren’t running fast enough in the middle. Well, I’m not a pro runner and I just can’t help not sprinting to the finish of race, it’s in my sport DNA to push hard at the end. Isn’t it fun to just let go and fly over the ground?
As I came into the track ending there was a Swedish runner with a giant Swedish flag over his head being cheered by a crowd of blonde Swedish people waving smaller Swedish flags…and I sped past him like a lacrosse demon resurrected from some ancient Iraquois battle field running back from the afterlife just two steps faster than the fire monster who was bent on taking me back to Hell. I don’t run with a music player so I have to let my mind wander and come up with new forms of entertainment along the race.
The sky was dark and the rain began to pour after I finished the race. I got a free beer and talked with a pastor named Roth about founding a church in Switzerland…and then begin tapped of energy…began to shiver uncontrollably. It was time to go. Eventually I made my way to the Hotel National, where a sauna awaited, and the deed was done. Till next year – if I make it that long. One of the high points was actually before the race, watching Silly Girl Running go by is always cool to see…
Want to know more about the SwissAlpine 2012 race? Check these links out:
Looking back at the SwissAlpine K78 Ultra-Marathon
Swissalpine K42 2012 Mountain Marathon Photos
Swissalpine K78 2012 Mountain Marathon Photos
Did you see this new one?: http://www.eigerultratrail.ch/en/
Looks amazing! Just a week before the SwissAlpine though.
Indeed, I saw it, I’m thinking of doing the Eiger trail and not doing the SwissAlpine. It you don’t know the Jungfrau region, would be a great race for you as well.
Yeah…I think the climbs in the E51 are a little out of my league at this point (just now training for my first 50k in April here in central PA- http://www.hikerun.com).
I do love the area- I camped in Lauterbrunnen some years back during the Jungfrau marathon and thought they were nuts to run up that mountain (I wasn’t a runner then). Now, someday, I want to do that!!
I know I still have a lot to learn from Davos. I’m planning to do the K42 again in 2013 and see if I can actually run the last few kilometers (instead of cramping like I did in July). I’m aiming to train for the K78 in 2014.
If you do end up at the Eiger this year it would make a great race report!